Book Review: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff + Giveaway
PROS:cinematic action sequences; eerily relevant political/environmental/social themes; BAMF heroine and griffin; beautiful, heart-wrenching scenes
An awe-inspiring tale of adventure, friendship and bravery told with electrifying style.
Steampunk fantasy in an alternate not-quite-Japan with griffins, chainsaw katanas, lotus-fueled skyships, vengeful demons and fierce, brave warriors sounds SO unbelievably cool. Add to that premise a badass cover, featuring none other than Patrick Rothfuss singing the book’s praises, and expectations for Stormdancer get ridiculously, scarily high. The execution is everything—can all of these badass elements come together to make a badass book? The answer is a resounding Hell Yes.
Author Jay Kristoff focuses on setting for the first quarter of the book, effectively conveying the grit and brutality of a futuristic, yet primitive country locked in a vicious cycle of lotus flower dependency. Lotus production and consumption has turned Shima and its environs into a polluted, violent cesspit. For most people in Kigen city, life is a misery of never-ending work, ceaseless hunger, encroaching disease, and fear of the Lotus Guild’s “purifying” fires.
Yukiko, our plucky protagonist, is better off than most. Her father, Masura, known as “The Black Fox,” is the Shogun’s Master Huntsman (even though there are no more fabled beasts left in Shima to hunt). She has a bit of money to spend on food, she carries a weapon to defend herself, and she has a kerchief mask and goggles to protect herself against the rancid air and the overbright sun.
When the Shogun sends her father’s team of hunters to capture the elusive arashitora, or thunder tiger, the mission seems doomed from the start. They are sure they will never find such a creature, and if they don’t, the Shogun’s punishment will be brutal.
Shizz hits the fan when the hunters actually DO stumble upon an arashitora during a thunderstorm, and soon Yukiko finds herself on the most dangerous journey of her life. She has to forge unlikely alliances, learn to trust strangers, question her belief system, and summon all of her strength and bravery as she battles demons, humans, and the will of an emperor who is all-powerful.
What I LOVED about Stormdancer:
The relationship between Buruu and Yukiko.
Basically from the moment Buruu entered the scene, the book had me in its clutches. Until then, my interest in the story was solid, but not rabid. The story changes into this epic adventure/friendship tale, and it was utterly addictive.
Yukiko is NOT happy about her father’s maneuvers to capture the thunder tiger, or his protective measures that strip it of its dignity, and Buruu is understandably even less OK with it. Yukiko’s unique ability to communicate with animals telepathically gives her an inside view of the whole brutal, sky crackling battle. When the skyship crashes, Yukiko finds herself stranded with the beast, and the two forge an unlikely alliance for survival. Like, seriously unlikely….
OWE YOU NOTHING MONKEY-CHILD. GO BACK TO YOUR SCAB.
ANTS’ NEST. WOOD AND STONE. SPEWING POISON INTO MY SKY.
We call them cities.
SCABS. BOILS ON THE LAND. YOU ARE SEPTIC.
If you leave me alone here, I’ll die.
DO NOT CARE. DEBT REPAID. MILLIONS OF YOU. ONE LESS IS NOTHING. GOOD START.
Yeah, it doesn’t really sound like these two are going to be making friendship bracelets anytime soon….and yet, it is difficult for them to remain mortal enemies when they have this psychic connection that allows them to see through each other’s eyes. I cannot tell you how much I LOVE stories where people think they hate each other, and are pre-disposed to do so, but are unable to stay hateful because they (begrudgingly or not) see something of themselves in the other person. These stories reveal the core of hatred, and how it is all about clinging to differences, rather than embracing shared understanding (another fabulous recent novel that knocks this message out of the park is Every Day by David Levithan).
As these two crazy kids traverse countryside, encountering demons and humans, they learn to trust each other, respect one another, and even enjoy each other’s company. What results is a hard-won, fierce friendship, and it’s one of my absolute FAVORITE book friendships in recent memory.
Brutal dystopian world
The world-building in Stormdancer is thorough and impressive, taking inspiration from Japanese traditions and mythology in the same way so many fantasy writers take inspiration from British history and lore.
Shima is an island steeped in fables and old world tradition, driven terribly off-course by futuristic machinery. The people are ruled by a ruthless, cruel young Shogun who values no life but his own, and policed by a severe order of Guildsmen, who burn the “impure.” Their motto “the lotus must bloom” becomes a sick refrain as you realize the price of keeping this dirty, violent world chugging along.
The rigid caste structure and uneasy balance between the Shogun, the Lotus Guild, and the masses they crush is just waiting to be challenged, and we are given SO many reasons to hate every cog in this machine, and to want the whole thing to fling apart. Your outrage will be properly stoked by the time resistance does come along. It may start for selfish, personal reasons, but it is SO right for many more.
Ok, I know all the techie gadgets are powered by blood lotuses, and that makes them EeeeeVIL, but they are so much fun to read about.
The Lotusmen and samurai wear Iron Man style suits that ironically protect their members from the very environment they perpetuate. The concept of a small group of powerful fat cats doing whatever they want at the expense of the populace, while going to great lengths to protect themselves is a familiar dystopian theme, and it well represented in the inventions of Shima.
Chainsaw katanas, and iron throwers make Shima strong and able to fight the gaijin wars (and bring gaijin slaves home for Shima’s nefarious uses). Skyships provide lotus-powered transport, launching from great spires in the city.
I liked Yukiko from page one. I mean she was kicking demon butt at the time, so it was kind of easy to root for her. Then we see her dragging her lotus flower blitzed father out of a gambling house because there is Stuff To Do.
Yukiko is strong when the people around her can’t be (the first time she gets to truly lean on someone else is when she’s traveling with Buruu), and she sticks up for those who are weaker than her. Yukiko is not afraid of the most dangerous man in Shima, and would sacrifice anything to defend those she loves from his cruelty.
Praise aside, Yukiko’s a pretty angsty, selfish teen too, and she’s thoughtless in her love triangle-ish dealings, (thank god for that! Watching a saint fighting badass battles and being perfect and sweet afterward feels blechity blech.) but she learns from her mistakes.
Check out the trailer:
This book NEEDS to be made into a movie, like asap. Here’s our fantasy cast. Your move, Hollywood.
We have one hardcover copy of Stormdancer up for grabs! Enter via the rafflecopter widget below.
Giveaway ends 9/30.
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